For the second year in a row, the Montana Grizzlies knocked off an East Coast power to advance to the FCS National Championship. Every year they're discredited. The strength of their conference is picked apart while another undefeated season is scoffed at. To many, the Big Sky is the Big 10 to the SoCon's SEC. There's still one left, but Montana has proven their schedule is irrelevant. They stack up with the best and they win the big games.
Montana's level of play was questioned throughout the year. As teams ahead of them lost, the Griz didn't move up from being the 2nd or 3rd ranked team. There were even weeks when they received the most first place votes yet still were held out of that #1 spot. Obviously, there were those who felt they didn't belong. If there's anyone out there who still believes that, they're ridiculous.
Obviously, there's one more to go. Last season, the Griz were favorites heading into Chattanooga. They had knocked off CAA champion and #1 seed James Madison; only Richmond, who lost to JMU earlier in the year and finished a lowly tie for third in the conference, remained.
This year, it's different. While the Griz hold the #1 seed this time, I think many favor Villanova. The Wildcats finished the season ahead in the rankings (despite having less first-place votes) and play in one of the East Coast power conferences. Sorry to go into minutiae, but this is important.
Last year I drove from Missoula to Chattanooga in hopes of seeing Montana win a National Championship my senior year. After the effort I put in to get to the game, I felt robbed when the Griz came out as flat as I've ever seen them play. Obviously, this year has to be different.
The Griz have faced adversity before, they've been questioned. In the first round they pulled off the biggest comeback in football this year. They blew out Stephen F. Austin before facing a tough App State team. The fact that they were unseeded is deceiving, they won ten straight coming into that game and the two early season losses were without Armanti Edwards. They're a very good team. And Montana beat them.
I have no doubt Montana has the talent and coaching it takes to win the National Championship. Much like last year, that isn't the issue. Montana must come with the level of play they've shown over the last 9 quarters of football. They need that desire, effort and enthusiasm. The difference between this year and last is that, this year, they'll be there. They will not come out flat this time.
Griz play like their hair is on fire, execute on offense, fly around on defense and win a close one. 28-24 Griz.
Note: I don't think I'll be able to make it out to Kirkland in time to get a spot (which I hear would be somewhere around 3:30) so I'll be at Sluggers Sports Bar in Pioneer Square (Seattle), where I hear there will be a few Griz fans. Hope to see a decent group there. Mention this post, and be one of the first people to do so, and I'll probably buy you a beer.
Photo credit: Becky Malewitz for MontanaGrizzlies.com